Ovdje ste: Homepage Ref. in W. Europe The Beginnings of the Reformation Martin Luther
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The Reformation in Western Europe - The Beginnings of the Reformation

(Eisleben, 10 November 1483 – Eisleben, 18 February 1546)

Martin LutherFather of the German Reformation, professor of theology and spiritual leader. Luther studied at the Latin schools in Mansfeld, Magdeburg and Eisenach and then at the age of 17 entered the University of Erfurt where in 1505 he received a master’s degree. That same year he decided to become a monk and joined the Augustinian order and monastery.  In 1512 he was awarded a Doctorate in Theology and then became a professor at the newly founded University in Wittenberg.

In 1516 he publicly opposed the concept of indulgences, which were being sold in Germany to raise money for the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Personal struggles (Anfechtung / tentatio) with sin and with God’s wrath drove Luther to search for answers in the Scriptures. He came to believe that the Bible teaches salvation by God’s grace through faith alone (sola fide), not as a reward for good works. This basic truth became the driving force behind his theology and his desire for reforming the church.

On 31 October 1517 Luther posted his now famous 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. That event sparked the Protestant Reformation and is today celebrated as Reformation Day throughout the world.

In 1521 he was publicly excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. In 1525 he married Katarina von Bora, with whom he had six children. His translation of the Bible into German made the Scriptures more accessible to ordinary people. His many sermons, hymns, lectures, Bible commentaries and catechisms were published during his lifetime and have had many editions since.

Luther and Matthias Flacius

Flacius came to Wittenberg as a student in 1541 to study for a master’s degree in the Greek and Hebrew languages. As a student, young Matthias lived between his room, the school and the church and became known for his utter devotion to research and serious scholarship. In Wittenberg he had the reputation of a lonely man who was always kind and helpful to his colleagues.

In his own autobiographical writing called Apologia he explains what happened when, in the midst of his personal crisis, he met Luther face to face:

At the end of my third year, when I was living in the house of Dr. Friedrich Backofen in Wittenberg, who was then a church deacon, evil was encroaching upon me and I was sure that I would die soon; he noticed that because of my internal anxiety I could not study at all. He urged me to confide in him and tell him what bothered me until I told him what was wrong with me. He affirmed me with counsel and prayer and then succeeded in convincing Doctor Pomeranus [Dr. Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558), who was a city pastor and a professor at Wittenberg University] to take me to D.D. Martin Luther. Luther then comforted me by sharing his own example as well as through the word of God, and when the congregation [at St. Mary’s Church in Wittenberg] had prayed for me, the torment lessened from day to day until a year later I was well again (Flacius, Apologia, 1549).

By the time young Flacius had this encounter with Luther he had already been in Germany for three years, far away from his beloved Istria, learning German and struggling to adjust to a completely different culture and climate. He had many doubts about his newly acquired Lutheran faith and as he did not share his internal struggles with anyone, he grew disillusioned. A deep battle with sin tormented him, caused him depression and even thoughts of suicide. He kept thinking that God was angry with him and wanted to judge him because of his sin. The encounter with God which Flacius underwent in the midst of suffering is reminiscent of what Luther himself had gone through.

Flacius says that he was constantly thinking of death and felt the wrath of God upon himself, also experiencing the power of the devil upon him. It was in such a state of mind that he had his meeting with Luther, in whom he recognized a man like himself, with human doubts and insecurities, different from what he seemed to be behind the pulpit or in the classroom. Flacius saw in Luther simplicity of faith and a desire to help and pastor others, giving him an example of what true Seelsorge is. Most importantly, Flacius afterwards felt that he was becoming more self-confident. Although the comfort he received made him feel delivered and renewed, Flacius kept returning to the theme of human fallenness throughout the rest of his theological career, reformulating his own understanding of the doctrine of sin.

Later on in his life Flacius said that this very personal discussion with Luther in his study changed him completely – it was his breakthrough experience. Luther also wrote favorably of Flacius in a letter of recommendation in 1543 stating, “He is a man well-known to me and of great faith” (Preger, 1964, 1: 24).

In 1544 Flacius received his appointment to the chair of Hebrew language at the faculty of philosophy in Wittenberg. A year later he got married and the fact that Luther attended his wedding meant recognition and respect for Flacius. From that moment on, Flacius felt that his family was under the shelter of the most important man in the city. Unfortunately for Flacius, four months after his wedding in November 1545, Luther died. On February 25, 1546 (only eight days after Luther’s death in Eisleben), Flacius received a master’s degree in philosophy, graduating as the best of his class of 39 students.

Starting in 1549, Flacius began publishing Luther’s works as a part of an attempt to preserve his legacy. An added motivation for those publications was a refutation of his own theological opponents.

Flacius also collaborated with Johannes Aurifaber (1519-1575) on publishing Luther’s collected works in Jena (there was a parallel effort for doing the same in Wittenberg). Furthermore, he printed two compendiums of Luther’s teachings about sin. The first one was published in 1560 and another one came out in print in 1574, one year before Flacius’ death.

Flacius tried to remain true to what he saw as Luther’s relentless emphasis on the fallen nature of human beings. The fact that Flacius so often quoted and referred to Luther in his theological writings, points to his intent of finding legitimation for his own theology. However, considering that he also published some of Luther’s works and fought so hard against those whom he perceived were moving away from Luther’s understanding especially on sin and free will, suggests that he did this because he felt a responsibility to carry on Luther’s theology. Flacius wanted to remain true to (his interpretation of) Luther and no one else.